St. Patrick’s Day: Shamrocking in Wientown
Is Vienna too decent a town for a keen green “Kiss me, I’m Irish”? No, Nay, Never!
My mission: to reproduce for you the mayhem encompassing our fair city’s authentic Irish watering holes, on the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world, St. Patrick’s Day. Usually only taken seriously by the Irish – and taken to extremes by the Irish diaspora in Anglo-Saxon countries – the hulk-coloured boozing frenzy has gained in popularity in Vienna, and the local pubs know to expect a green and thirsty throng.
To get an overview, my strategy was simple. I would do some efficient pub hopping, starting from the periphery and making my way into the innards of the city. There I would hit the more renowned pubs, like the Irish stronghold Charlie P’s, the subterranean Billy’s Bones, the ever-jolly Molly Darcy’s and, on the other side of the 1st District, Flanagan’s. One beer at each. Given my broad build and numerous years’ experience, this was an achievable goal.
First, the lesser-known "Speakeasy" pub just off of Alser Straße. It’s known as a cosy, laid-back joint, but just how relaxed and oblivious the underlying vibe was, was remarkable, considering the occasion. I spotted just two pathetic Styrofoam top hats branded with Guinness logos, and the colour green – normally omnipresent, – only in the logos of the beer and ales they had on tap. Just as I was losing hope, a kind gesture came my way from an older gentlemen standing to my side.
He ordered me a beer. In retrospect, this fine individual was about the only authentic thing about the "Speakeasy" on that night. Built like an English bulldog, his body posture and sloth-like movements were the real thing – until his St. Patrick’s Day t-shirt with "staff" printed on the back gave him away. But what really killed it for me, however, was the way my one and only beer there was poured and served. I am used to drinking a thick green beer for St. Patrick’s, frothing from the tap. Instead, the narcotized barman allowed only a pathetic little drip. Time to move on.
My next target was the Schottentor trifecta: First stop, Charlie P’s at the helm of the Währinger Straße. There was a moderate queue, but it moved fast and I was inside within 10 short minutes. It was a conglomerate comprised of the Irish and Austrian.
While waiting to order, I overheard an Irishman clearing up some facts for a newbie: "No, no for Christ-saaaake! He was not a Leprechaun! We’rd ya hear that load of rubbish!?" Intoxicated, I quickly downed an appropriately green beer and with a newly-found burst of energy, I was off.
Next on the list was the wonderfully gloomy Billy’s Bones around the corner. No line awaited, and I soon found out why… The place was packed like a can of North Sea sardines. The Irish tunes dribbling from the tiny sound system reminded me of my mom’s car radio, before sonic depth and bass had been invented. Then an Elvis Presley look-alike tried convincing me that Elvis also had Irish roots. Unimpressed, I slipped away just as "Elvis" started belting an barely recognizable "Jailhouse Rock".
The third stop was Molly Darcy’s, which proved to be the champion of the night. The hordes sounded a mile away, but even so, I did not expect to see what I saw as I rounded the corner of the Freyung into Teinfaltstraße. As a Fiaker tried to make its way past the block party, the coachman and his weary horses were greeted by a Neanderthal roar, then numerous offerings of beer. It was wonderful! Such heartfelt interaction! So rare in Vienna! I had finally found what I had been looking for!
Within, Molly’s was also having a go at redefining the word "overcrowded". Trying to order a beer at the bar was a feat in itself, especially considering that the poor barman was lecturing the barflies swarming around, to little end I feared, due to his thick Irish accent.
But it was time to move on to Flanagan’s on Schwarzenbergstraße on the other side of the Ring, my final destination. Here, I was welcomed by a landscape I had grown accustomed to that night, an overfilled pub, playing inaudible music, trumped irreparably by the loud rumbling sea of drunken revellers. Hardly worth the effort.
All in all, I was bewildered by the enthusiasm of this mostly Viennese crowd. I mean, we’re not in Dublin! An Irish waitress clued me in. In fact, the Irish don’t really care that much about St. Patrick’s Day, she confided. It’s more the expats and the tag-alongs who make this a worldwide phenomenon, particularly the pubescent little rascals, looking for yet another reason to shoot themselves to the moon with drink.
Other than the fact that St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, who was supposedly the first Catholic saint to minister from 428 AD onwards, most Irish feel more or less indifferent…
Could this be true? Either she was winding me up, or a lot of people have been living an (albeit nice) illusion for a very long time. So it’s the Viennese and the expats that take this thing so seriously. They’re the real "Wild Rovers"!